Tag Archives: Poet Laureate

Falling Hard for an Old Poem, and an Old Poet

I’m scared of poetry. Sometimes because I don’t understand it, and feel stupid, sometimes because it feels annoyingly cloying. But when I hear or read a poem I like, I’m struck by lightening. It lodges somewhere in me and keeps reverberating.

When Philip Levine was announced as our new Poet Laureate on August 10th, I heard his poetry for the first time. I fell, and fell hard, for his poem, “What Work Is.”

In just a few lines, it has everything I try for in my writing. A character caught in tough times, an evocative setting, and an unexpected leap to intense, complex emotions.


(Men waiting outside city mission. Iowa, 1940, Library of Congress.)

Here’s a short interview on Fresh Air which includes his reading the poem:

And the Library of Congress has set up a terrific website if you want more info.

Posted by Elizabeth Partridge




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